Roger Ebert Home Partners with Chicago Urban League and Columbia Links to Mentor Young Critics is collaborating once again with Columbia College’s high school journalism program and the Chicago Urban League in what Chaz Ebert calls “paving a pathway to the future.” Student reviewers from the Columbia Links program will act as chief critics for the Urban League’s annual Black History Month Film Festival, which opened February 2nd. Their work will be widely disseminated on 

“But more importantly,” says Ebert, “they will be given the opportunity to interact with community leaders, established filmmakers, politicians, and others to help hone their perspectives on the arts and how that impacts the world around them. The purpose is to help them find their voice. We need voices that can speak deeply and with nuance because of their lived experiences. I want them to see themselves in the public discourse.” 

The students will receive feedback from Columbia Links Executive Director Brenda Butler and Managing Editor Brian Tallerico. They are: Kinnedy Broughton (Lincoln Park High School); Dyana Daniels (Mother McAuley High School); and Messiah Young (Kenwood Academy). One student who participated in the first two years of this program, Brianna Williams, is now enrolled at Northwestern University on a four-year scholarship at Medill. 

“Nothing could make me happier than to see this outcome for some of our other students,” Ebert adds.

The Black History Month Film Festival comes at a time of heightened debate over the lack of diversity among Academy Awards nominees and the #OscarsSoWhite boycott threatened by some of Hollywood’s leading black actors. Recently at the Sundance Film Festival, “The Birth of a Nation,” a new film about the slave uprising led by Nat Turner, written and directed by black actor Nate Parker, won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award and sold for $17.5 million (Fox Searchlight Films), the highest in festival history. 

The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation supports the Sundance Institute’s Roger Ebert Fellowship for Film Criticism that enabled three college-age critics to attend and cover the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. This year’s Ebert Fellows were all women representing diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds (African-American, Latina-American and Asian-American). Last year, Ebert announced the plans for The Ebert Center at the College of Media at her husband’s alma mater, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to encourage socially responsible filmmaking that reflects diverse cultures and points of view.

“Representation by African American actors, filmmakers and critics is a necessary and ongoing discussion,” said Mrs. Ebert.  “And we must also involve the studio executives, financiers, unions and major publications. I think it’s beginning to happen now not only because of the Oscars but because people are frustrated by stilted progress — one step forward and, seemingly, two steps backward. It’s critically important to create pathways to ensure more diverse voices are being heard that influence which stories get green lit, supported and recognized. The Chicago Urban League has long advocated for this and I am pleased to collaborate with them once again.”

The theme of the Chicago Urban League Film Fest is “Journey through Black History: Connecting New and Past Generations.” This year’s lineup includes three feature-length documentaries that deal with racial stereotypes; modern-day slavery; connection to the African Diaspora; and activism. One film per week will be shown at 6 p.m. at Urban League headquarters, 4510 S. Michigan Ave. Each will be followed by a panel discussion with community thought leaders. In the fourth week, the Chicago Urban League will screen short films produced by students in its education and human capital programs. Prior to the start of each film, a voter registration drive will take place from 5 to 6 pm. 

Established in 2012, the Chicago Urban League’s Black History Month Film Fest is presented annually as a forum to engage the community in honoring the achievements of African Americans, examining current community challenges and exploring strategic solutions that can lead to an empowered future. Find the complete festival schedule at The Chicago Urban League's official site.

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